(Changes lead paragraph, adds details from multiple food safety probes in paragraphs 5-9)
By Ana Mano
SAO PAULO, Aug 30 (Reuters) - BRF SA, the world’s largest chicken exporter, believes rigorous inspection standards can help open new markets to Brazilian food products, an executive said on Wednesday, commenting on the effects of a recent and temporary ban on the country’s meat exporters amid a food safety crisis.
The “Weak Flesh” probe uncovered allegations that inspectors were bribed to ignore lapses in food standards. Police have accused more than 100 people of taking bribes in exchange for allowing the sale of rancid products, falsifying export documents or failing to inspect meatpacking plants.
“We have to work with the government because other countries may take advantage of eventual failures in Brazil’s position,” BRF Brazil Vice President Alexandre Almeida said at an industry conference.
“The more rigorous the food inspection services, the better.”
BRF has invested heavily to reduce the presence of salmonella in factories, for example, allowing the company to better cater to clients in foreign markets as quality standards improve, Almeida said.
The company operates more than 50 plants and 45 distribution centers worldwide, and produces more than 4 million tonnes of food in a year.
Almeida’s comments come in the wake of a series of investigations into alleged corruption involving food inspection officials from the Agriculture Ministry, meatpackers and dairy companies.
BRF’s shares were down almost 2 percent at 41.80 reais in late afternoon trading, widening year-to-day losses to 13 percent.
In May, the police opened two separate investigations into whether certain food companies improperly received favorable treatment from the ministry, the latest probe ensnaring the farming sector. Earlier on Wednesday the federal police said they were expanding a probe.
Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said at the same conference the government is overhauling oversight and quality control systems to preserve Brazil’s market access, promising more details on the changes soon.
Almeida said BRF sees internationalization as the best way to expand its business, while believing that Brazil’s heavy fiscal burden also hampers the firm’s ability to compete globally. (Reporting by Ana Mano; Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Grant McCool and Chris Reese)